May 30, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 486

Iranian Monarchists Are To Be Blamed For The Failure Of The Opposition

May 30, 2023 | By Himdad Mustafa*
Iran | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 486

The most divisive issue among the Iranian opposition groups and figures is the future form of government after the downfall of the Islamic Republic. Iranians are divided into two main camps: monarchists and republicans.[1] As to whether the political system should be a federal or a centralized government, the republicans are further divided into two main groups: centralists and federalists.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah of Iran. He resides in the United States. (Source:; Screenshot from Reza Pahlavi's interview with Rai news, April 27, 2023)

Iranian Monarchists Consist Of Scattered Groups

Iranian monarchists consist of several scattered groups with no unifying umbrella organization, ranging from radical groups advocating for an absolute monarchy to mainstream monarchists who call themselves "constitutionalists" and seek the revival of a constitutional monarchy and the Iranian Constitution of 1906. "Despite their lack of unity," according to Iranian-American political scientist Sussan Siavoshi, "all of the monarchists remain faithful heirs of the Pahlavi policy to promote Persian identity."[2] Thus, their attempt to construct one national identity based on one language, one nation and one culture in a multinational Iran would exclude almost half of the country's population (contemporary Iran, like medieval Iran, is not a country but a heterogeneous, multinational, and multilingual empire. In Iran, Persians make up half of the country's population, while the other half comprises minorities, which maintain a strong ethnic identity that distinguishes them from Persians).

Monarchists support Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah of Iran, and have campaigned to give him "power of attorney" as their representative "to lead a transition from clerical to secular rule."[3] Pahlavi claims that he supports democracy and promises to respect the will of Iranians, though he has not clarified yet his position on the demands of ethnic minorities like federalism. Furthermore, he has still not apologized for his father's brutal dictatorship. It is worth noting that Reza Pahlavi's supporters want the Pahlavi monarchy to replace the clerical regime and are staunchly against establishing a republic of any form in Iran, particularly a federal one.

The monarchists do not possess an institutional or an organizational base inside Iran, and they have failed to infiltrate the country's armed forces that defend the existing theocratic regime. In an interview in 2018, Pahlavi stated: "I am in bilateral contacts with the [regime's] military, the IRGC and the Basij. We are communicating. They are signaling their readiness and expressing willingness to align with the people."[4] However, Pahlavi's repeated overtures to the armed forces and the IRGC to join him in the future government of Iran have so far been fruitless.[5]

"Death To The Dictator, Be It Shah Or Ayatollah"

Undoubtedly, Pahlavi has a potential base of support among the Persian diaspora, who are nostalgic for the Pahlavi era, but inside the country the majority of Iranians, particularly the non-Persian ethnonations (e.g., Kurds, Balochs, Ahwazis, Azeris, etc.), are unwilling to reinstitute the same oppressive monarchy that they toppled four decades ago. Moreover, as Iranian scholar Dariush Zahedi points out that, given their disunity, disorganization, and lukewarm commitments, the monarchists, even were they to join forces with the liberal opposition, have shown that they are not able to bring down the present regime.[6]

Iranian scholar Aidin Torkameh wrote: "If we turn our attention from the mainstream media and focus on what is happening on the ground it appears that the actual presence of the Pahlavists is not significant." "Their huge propaganda machine has failed to fully reach the masses, and many segments of the masses are actively rejecting it. It is worth noting that even this existing level of support for the old Pahlavi regime should not be taken as the result of an entirely organic process. Most of the pro-Pahlavi protesters are passive defenders of the Pahlavis because alternative views have been eliminated. Their worldview has been largely shaped by, and is limited to, the nation-state-centric (Iranist/Farsist) viewpoint that has developed over the past century," Torkameh said, adding that "in an open political environment where progressive groups can operate freely, Pahlavi's supporters are likely to become even less influential."[7]

This is also reflected in anti-regime protests, as one of the main slogans is "Marg Ba Setamgar, Che Shah Bashe Che Rahbar [Death to the Dictator, Be it Shah or Ayatollah]." This slogan refers to a 120-year-old historical struggle of all the multi-national Iranian groups for freedom against dictatorial regimes that were brought about after the 1905-1911 Constitutional Revolution.

Republicans Comprise The Bulk Of Iranians

The republicans, who comprise the bulk of Iranians, believe that the most appropriate form of democracy for Iran is a secular republican system. They reject the monarchy stressing that Iranians have suffered under two totalitarian governments: an Islamic one and a monarchy.

Among the prominent republican figures, one may mention Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and Canada-based activist Hamed Esmaeilion,[8] as well as U.S.-based author, journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad, U.K.-based actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi. The political parties of non-Persian ethnonations also favor this system. It is worth noting that monarchists have accused Esmaeilion and Alinejad of having views that will lead to the loss of Iran's national integrity.[9] In particular, after writing a tweet in Kurdish to condolence the father of Hooman Abdullahi from Kermanshah (Esmaeilion's home town), who was killed by the regime, Esmaeilion was accused by many pro-monarchists of "promoting separatism," and of "causing sedition" among Iranians.[10]

See MEMRI TV clip No. 10070
, Iranian-Canadian Activist Hamed Esmaeilion At Ceremony Commemorating Ukrainian Flight Downed By The IRGC: We Live For A Day Without The Islamic Republic And Without The Criminals Who Ruin Beautiful Iran, January 8, 2023.

Federalism VS Centralism

The republicans are divided into two more groups: federalists and centralists. The federalists mainly comprise ethnonational minorities while the centralists are mainly consisted of Persians across the political spectrum. Alinejad and Esmaeilion also appear to be advocates of decentralization of the government or some type of federalism.[11]

The federalists say that the centralist, or unitary, model of government in Iran has failed to achieve social justice due to the country's ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and geographical diversity. Centralism in Iran has caused ethnic and religious inequality and discrimination, as well as unbalanced economic development between a Persian center and the peripheral ethnic regions. Therefore, they emphasize the need for the transition from a centralized structure to a federal one that would accommodate the demands of ethnonations.

The Coordination Center of Iranian Kurdistan's Political Parties, an umbrella body that gathers Kurdish-Iranian political groups and figures, recently said that they are in the process of finalizing a joint political platform to advocate for a federal Iran.[12] Khalid Azizi, spokesperson for Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), set out the party's vision for a future republic in Iran based on the following principals: recognition of Iran as a pluralistic country, separation of religion and government, decentralization of power and power-sharing among all peoples of Iran.[13]

Mustafa Hijri, the leader of the PDKI, said in an interview with BBC Persian: "We, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the Kurds living in Iranian Kurdistan are under no circumstances willing to cooperate with Reza Pahlavi."[14] More recently on May 5, after the Friday prayers, Baloch protesters took to the streets and chanted anti-regime and anti-monarchy slogans. One of the main slogans denounced: "100 years of crimes under the monarchists and clerics."[15]

The Pahlavists and many republicans reject federalism, calling those who favor this system "terrorists" or "separatists." Habibollah Baloch, Secretary General of the Balochistan National Solidarity, wrote in a tweet that when it comes to the rights of non-Persian nations in Iran, despite preaching slogans for human rights, Pahlavists have "totalitarian views" and negate the values of the United Nations charters. "You will not win the cooperation of oppressed nations by reproducing mistrust," he wrote.[16]

The Failure Of The Alliance For Democracy And Freedom

In February 2023, at a Georgetown University event, opposition leaders in the Iranian diaspora comprising individuals from different backgrounds, political beliefs, and perspectives, formed the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom in Iran (ADF Iran), popularly known as the Georgetown Group, to support the "Woman, Life, Freedom" revolution against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The alliance was comprised of Hamed Esmaeilion, Reza Pahlavi, Shirin Ebadi, Masih Alinejad, Nazanin Boniadi, as well as Secretary General of Komala party of Iranian Kurdistan Abdullah Mohtadi.

On March 10, the ADF Iran published the "Mahsa Charter"[17] (named after Jina Mahsa Amini) that devised a roadmap for the transitional period, after the downfall of the Islamic Republic, to build "a secular democracy that serves the will of all Iranian citizens."

The charter stressed that the main purposes of the alliance were to gain international support for the Iranian revolution and consulting with democratic governments to expel the ambassadors of the Islamic Republic from their respective countries. Furthermore, the charter stated that the group would work to put "international pressure on the Islamic Republic to halt all death sentences and to immediately release all political prisoners without condition."

It is worth noting that the charter left open what type of government form the group wants to implement, stating that it should be determined by a referendum. "To determine the form of government by way of a referendum, to establish a secular-democratic system (based on the principle of separation of religion from government) in which all political and official members of the state shall be elected through a free and democratic election process whereby citizens of all beliefs, ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientation be afforded dignity and equal rights before the law," stated the first article of the "Mahsa Charter." Article two underlined that the Alliance's goal was "to maintain the territorial integrity of Iran while accepting diversity in language, ethnicity, religion and culture." Yet, article three also mentioned that "decentralization of power by deferring financial, bureaucratic and policy making affairs to elected provincial, city, and regional administrations."[18]

However, the campaign to bring to fruition the "Woman Life Freedom" revolution through this alliance proved unsuccessful, as many Iranian monarchists soon expressed their disapproval for the charter for not dictating monarchism as the future form of government. Moreover, they rejected the demands of Kurds and other ethnicities for autonomy within the territorial integrity of Iran, criticizing the charter for promoting the decentralization of Iran, which they claimed would lead to Iran's break-up along ethnic lines.

The members that composed the Alliance For Democracy And Freedom (Source: Iran International)

Reza Pahlavi And The Support Of The Army

In particular, cracks in the ranks of the Alliance emerged after Pahlavi tried to bring pro-monarchy figures into the solidarity council despite facing opposition from other members of the alliance. Moreover, monarchists continued to present Reza Pahlavi, referred by them as "the Prince," as the sole representative of Iran. Hence, probably to avoid losing his ultranationalist base, Reza Pahlavi continued to act independently.

A MEMRI analysis showed that the insistence of Pahlavists to replace the theocratic system with monarchism poses serious challenges to any coalition building as many people in Iran believe that the "transitional period" led by Pahlavi is just an euphemism for "forever period," just as Ruhollah Khomeini was supposed to be a "temporary" Supreme leader.[19]

One of the most serious challenges facing any Iranian political alliances is this existing mutual mistrust between the political groups.

Many non-monarchists believe that if Reza Pahlavi, or any other monarchist figure, leads the transitional government, it is unlikely for the monarchists to leave power and make way for democratic forces. In the absence of substantial apparent support among the masses, the monarchists have long realized that they cannot hold power in Iran without the unreserved support of the armed forces. One may recall Houshang Nahavandi's words, one of the late Shah's close advisers, who in the early 1980s said: "The [monarchist] politicians without the support of the military and the confidence of the Iranian armed forces have no role, in the immediate future of Iran."[20] Reza Pahlavi has often stated that he will rely on the current armed forces to maintain order in the country. Therefore, many people look at monarchism with great suspicion.

In a 2019, interview with VOA, Reza Pahlavi also stated: "Are all Sepah [IRGC] terrorists? No. And this is the reason, I tell Iranians who are in uniform, whether in the military, Sepah, Basij: Dear Sir, the time has come to back away from these forces and join the Iranian people. You guys are not terrorists, you guys are people in Iran, who have stood face-to-face with the Iraqi army and fought in a war.[21] You sacrificed your lives. You have given martyrs, both in the military and in the Sepah. You guys are part of the Iranian people."[22]

Most recently, in a 2023 interview with the German TV Channel, Deutsche Welle, Reza Pahlavi's stances were slightly modified (this could be due to the fact that Esmaeilion's campaign to blacklist the IRGC was embraced by European Parliament).[23] In the past, he used to say that the military, the Basij, and the "current Sepah" would be the ones to preserve peace, once the ruling system would be replaced. Instead in a recent interview, Reza Pahlavi stated that the IRGC was the problem, but not the Iranian military: "As a matter of fact, I think most Iranians know that the Iranian military [has] never been against the people. In fact, from the very beginning, when the IRGC was created it was a mechanism of guarantee [for] the regime's survival because the regime did not trust the military. The IRGC was not created to support the country. The IRGC became a mechanism with a mandate to export an ideological revolution. It is not the military that opposes the people. It is the IRGC that is a major problem."[24] Reza Pahlavi also tweeted: "Our request is clear: put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the terrorist list," using the hashtag #IRGCterrorists.[25]

Esmaeilion's Resignation Over Reza Pahlavi's "Undemocratic Behavior"

On April 21, 2023, in a post titled "Report to the People," Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and their only child Reera were killed when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020,[26] announced that he left the Alliance For Democracy And Freedom, while promising to continue working with "democratic forces."[27]

Esmaeilion, who has been defined as a "moral leader" and a "leading voice outside Iran in the anti-regime movement,"[28] said that he expected that after the publication of the charter, the organizational work to effectively help the Iranian revolution would begin. He stressed that he tried to keep away from "conflicts, pressures, and illogical demands" but was impeded by "pressure groups from the outside" that kept trying to impose their own views on the group by "undemocratic methods."[29] Esmaeilion wrote this text without naming the people he was accusing, but everybody understood that he was referring to Reza Pahlavi and the monarchists. "Imposing opinions is not democratic, and the consensus of group's members, not just of one member, is a precondition of a democratic movement... Both I and other friends inside and outside the solidarity group tried to prevent this from happening. We were optimistic until the last moment, but it was useless," Esmaeilion wrote. He further criticized "fruitless conflicts & futile fights" that were ignited within the group, and that overshadowed "the blood of those who were killed and the suffering of those who are in pain." For all these reasons, Esmaelion decided to leave the group.

Soon after his post on Twitter, he was interviewed by Iran International TV, and, in that occasion, he mentioned Reza Pahlavi as the reason for leaving the alliance. Iran International reported: "Esmaeilion who had not directly mentioned the exiled Prince as the reason for leaving the alliance a day earlier, named him as the person with whom he had disagreements and left the group... Esmaeilion claimed that the 'near absolute majority' of the members of the alliance sought the formation of specialized committees and drawing up articles of association for the alliance, but the Prince 'resisted' such initiatives and instead demanded that the alliance should only give support to political organizations formed outside it." During the interview Esmaeilion also mentioned that another problem was that discussions within the group leaked out by Reza Pahlavi on Twitter.[30]

Iran International added that monarchists have been particularly angry because they believe that Esmaeilion and possibly Alinejad have prevented Pahlavi from including in the coalition some opposition figures known to be close to him – particularly London-based journalist Amir Taheri, the U.S.-based Amir-Hossein Etemadi, a member of the Frashgard group,[31] and Germany-based musician and activist Shahin Najafi.[32]

After Esmaeilion left the group, in a separate statement Abdullah Mohtadi, Shirin Ebadi, Masih Alinejad, and Nazanin Boniadi wrote that their goal was helping the Revolution against the Islamic Republic inside the country, "to encourage the spirit of pluralism and diversity, and to strengthen cooperation and solidarity." However, they added that the situation has made it hard to continue to be in the Alliance.[33]


The unwillingness of the monarchist camp to cooperate with the democratic opposition movements and figures has prevented the emergence of a unified, strong opposition that could challenge the Islamic Republic.

Iranian-Turkmen activist Jouma Bouresh wrote in a tweet that Pahlavi could have played a constructive role, but instead "he has become a source of despair."[34] Ethnic minorities believe that the monarchists are no different from the Islamic Republic. It is because of the continuous exclusionism of non-Persian peoples inside the country, supported by both the Islamic republic and by the monarchists, that ethnic minorities came to the conclusion that they cannot coexist with the Persian center region, and, hence, see separatism, as the only remedy for their survival.

It is important for the Iranian monarchists to accept that monarchism was overthrown by the majority of Iranians four decades ago and the Iranian peoples now want a democratic country, ruled by neither an ayatollah nor a shah. The Persian opposition needs to embrace ethnic diversity in the country rather than denying and suppressing it. Ethnic minorities, that together comprise almost half of the country's population, do not want a centralized government but rather a federal or a confederal system that could protect their basic human and ethnic rights. Any future alliances failing to address the demands of the majority of Iranians particularly the minoritized ethnonations is bound to fail.

* Himdad Mustafa is a Kurdish scholar and expert on Kurdish and Iranian affairs.


[1] , March 29, 2023.

[2] Susan Siavoshi, "Construction of Iran's National Identity: Three Discourses," in Rethinking Iranian Nationalism and Modernity, ed. Aghaie and Marashi. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014. pp. 253-274.

[3] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2023.

[4];, November 12, 2018.


[6] Dariush Zahedi. The Iranian Revolution Then And Now: Indicators Of Regime Instability. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2018. p.145

[7] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2023.

[8] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 460, Hamed Esmaeilion: The Moral Compass Of The Iranian Opposition, February 27, 2023

[9], April 22, 2023.

[10] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2023

[11], March 29, 2023.

[12], May 4, 2023.

[13], April 24, 2023.

[14], February 20, 2023.

[15], May 5, 2023.

[16], May 1, 2023.



[19] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2023

[20] Anoushiravan Ehteshami. After Khomeini: The Iranian Second Republic, London & New York: Routledge, 2002. P.16.

[21] As reported in Reza Pahlavi's website: "As an accomplished jet fighter pilot, Reza Pahlavi volunteered to serve his country's military as a fighter pilot during the Iran-Iraq War, but was declined by the clerical regime."

[22], April 9, 2019.

[23], January 19, 2023.

[24], January 15, 2023.

[25], January 15, 2023.

[26] Hamed Esmaeilion is an Iranian-Canadian social activist, author, and dentist. He immigrated to Canada with his wife Parisa, and their newborn baby girl Reera, in 2010. On January 8, 2020, Esmaeilion's wife and their only child Reera, were killed when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with two surface-to-air missiles, shortly after it took off from Tehran's international airport. The missiles killed all 176 passengers and crew aboard. In order to seek justice, Esmaeilion and a group of families of victims of Flight PS752 established the "Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims." On October 22, 2022, amid intense anti-regime protests, Esmaeilion showed his leadership abilities and united over 800,000 Iranians in a rally in Berlin, in what was described as the "largest" gathering in the history of Iranians opposing the Islamic Republic. See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 460, Hamed Esmaeilion: The Moral Compass Of The Iranian Opposition, February 27, 2023.

[27], April 21, 2023.

[28], December 28, 2022.

[29], April 22, 2023.

[30], April 24, 2023.

[31] In an interview with Radio Farda, Damon Golriz, a member of the Farashgard (Revival; an Iranian political action network, founded in September 2018, by 40 Iranian activists around the world), said that Reza Pahlavi is a key personality in the activities of the movement. "As a linchpin to combine all parts of the Iranian society; as a person in charge of bringing people's hearts together. The majority of people inside Iran, as well as many elite figures in and outside the country, pay homage to his father and grandfather. Therefore, Prince Reza Pahlavi's role for replacing the current establishment with a democratic one is quite crucial," Golriz stated.

[32], April 22, 2023.

[33], April 26, 2023.

[34], May 4, 2023.

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